I had always wanted to be a mother. In my youthful days, I could imagine running through a field of daisies with my children. My long hair would fall in great swirls about my face, radiant with motherhood. My children would look up adoringly at me, and the sun would shine warmly on us.
But I found real motherhood not like that at all. One day I took my four children to a field, even though I didn't have time to take the curlers out of my short stubborn hair.
One of the twins got stung by a bee and the other one picked poison ivy for me. The girls complained constantly about being thirsty. Just as the rain started, a man yelled, "Hey, get out of here. You're trespassing."
Why doesn't someone tell you what motherhood is really like? Why don't they tell you about mountains of crumbs that stick to high chairs and sticky spilled milk and sky-high temperatures. Why doesn't someone warn you about children who whine? Why don't they tell you how to get gum out of rugs and what to do when an apple gets flushed down the toilet?
Actually, I managed quite well as a mother with my first little girl. Julie was never sick, and anything suited her. She had regular checkups, ate a balanced diet, wore matching outfits and a pert ribbon in her hair, and always smelled of baby powder. I read to her by the hour. She could quote "Annabel Lee" in kindergarten.
Two years later a second daughter, Jennifer, arrived. Jennifer was a happy, contented baby, like her sister. Two little girls and a mother who had to hurry a bit but certainly believed that little girls were sugar and spice and everything nice.
But wouldn't a little boy be fun, I thought, as I saw my husband looking at boy babies or going out to play football with a neighbor's child. I wonder what little boys are like, I mused. So at the age of thirty-three, I was delighted to learn a baby was on the way. My husband and our girls were also thrilled.
I can still remember the kindly doctor looking at an x ray two months before my baby was due and holding up two fingers. I didn't know what he meant.
"Twins, Mrs. West, you're going to have twins!"
I expected girls again and had, back in my mind, the names Jessica and Johanna. But we quickly came up with the names Jonathan and Jeremy. I couldn't believe I had twin sons - or four children!
The trips to the pediatrician's office became so traumatic that I stopped going. There was always a little fellow who sat calmly by his mother's side glancing up at her lovingly. His shirt was buttoned, his pants zipped, socks matched, and both his shoes remained on and tied. His mother sighed to me, "I don't know what I'd do if I had two of little Albert."
As my twins, not quite a year old, crawled under people's chairs, onto strangers' laps and onto the window ledges, I thought grimly, You should have five of him!
Also in the waiting room was the mother with her firstborn. She became very protective as my sons made their way toward her baby. Her mother, husband and the maid discouraged my twins from coming close. When I gave Jon and Jeremy a whack on their bottoms, this young mother looked at me with an I'll-never-have-to-resort-to-that-sort-of-thing look.
As the twins got older, and I aged incredibly, I learned to move fast. Do I run after Jeremy as he heads for three empty bottles on my neighbor's carport or dash for Jon as he disappears into a storm drain? Should I catch the one getting into the bathtub fully clothed or go after the one pulling the hissing cat out from under the bed?
As the twins grew larger, they eventually covered every inch of the house looking for adventure. They turned over the television and removed its parts, broke out the glass in the French door, knocked out window screens and threw their clothes and toys out, climbed up inside the chimney, pulled down curtains and curtain rods, removed the heating ducts from the wall and finally turned over an old chest with each of them shut tightly in a drawer.
Some weeks were worse than others. One Tuesday afternoon, a railing outside the public library gave way and Jon fell eleven feet. That night, Jeremy knocked a tooth loose.
Wednesday, Jeremy learned to open the car door while I was driving. Saturday night, Jeremy leaped from the mantel and required five stitches in his head. Jon cried for days because he didn't have any stitches and finally consoled himself by drinking iodine.
Just before the boys were fifteen months old, Jeremy discovered how to get out of his bed. Then he freed Jon. This meant every day I dragged around the house like Frankenstein with a twin clinging to each leg.
The look in my eyes after a few days forced my husband to take drastic measures. He built a fence around the top of Jeremy's bed with chicken wire. When Jeremy climbed over the top of the fence and jumped to freedom, Jerry built a top to the fence and put a lock on it.
We soon learned to ignore the looks on the faces of our friends when they saw Jeremy's bed for the first time. Actually, Jeremy seemed relieved to be confined, which proves what I have always believed: Children want discipline.
Jeremy's Sunday school teacher never did understand why he began placing a doll in a doll bed and then turning another bed over it, smiling with great satisfaction. I didn't tell her about Jeremy's bed.
Talking on the telephone was dangerous. My twins had become conditioned, and the sound of our phone ringing sent them looking for trouble.
One day as I talked on the phone (I had to communicate with people somehow), Jon came running to me looking funny, and holding his throat. We had just returned from the hospital that day. Jon's tonsils had been removed. Suddenly, I knew what his trouble was.
Surely, God m ust give mothers of twins extra abilities. Jon had found a nickel on my dresser and swallowed it.
I threw the phone down and grabbed Jon by the feet, shaking him and praying. Out came the nickel and his stitches didn't even bleed.
Friends almost stopped coming by. Our house was like a three-ring circus. I often stood by the window watching my friends going out to eat lunch together and felt an ache I thought I couldn't bear.
That same day a dear friend came by. I was so glad to see an adult, I could hardly stop talking or grinning. Our conversation was interrupted by loud crashes coming from the direction of the bathroom. Lord, help me ignore the noise and enjoy this friend who has come to see me.
Finally, as I continued to ignore the crashes, Jeremy brought me half of the top of the back of the toilet tank. He placed it in my lap, hoping to interrupt our conversation. I kept talking calmly, wiping the blood from his cut finger on my apron and cautioning him, "Don't bleed on the rug."
I almost never took the boys anywhere, but in desperation (it had rained for four days) we went to get a carton of soft drinks. My twins were wild with excitement.
I dressed Jon first. By the time I got to Jeremy, Jon stood inside the toilet bowl, laughing. I dressed Jon again and looked for Jeremy, only to find him standing out in the rain looking up with his mouth open.
Some mornings I awoke and prayed even before I opened my eyes: Please, God, stay very close to me today. I don't even want to be a mother today. I just want to listen to silence and think my own thoughts, and brush my teeth without interruption.
Going out was reduced to a jaunt to the garbage cans or a dash to the mailbox or the clothesline. One evening, however, I went to a dinner party with my husband. The children gathered around to watch me put on shoes and lipstick.
I guess the party was too much for me. I kept saying, "Look at all the big people." And I tried to cut the meat of the startled gentleman sitting next to me.
Sometimes I wonder how many miles I must have strolled Jon and Jeremy (mostly uphill) while Julie and Jennifer followed, constantly asking questions.
Many times I had no idea how I would do it one more day, or how I would even get through supper that night.
A little old lady who lived at the end of the street asked the same question. Many of my friends did. Even strangers sometimes quizzed me, "How do you manage?"
"I pray a lot," I told them. "I have to. I can't make it on my own. God helps me every day."
(c) 1978 from Chicken Soup for the Expectant Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell Autio.